CRISTINA PAGE had been incubating the idea for a few years, almost since her graduation from Goucher College in 1993: Why not produce a college guidebook in which students or recent graduates tell those coming close behind about real life in real schools -- warts and all?
Current students and recent graduates should know best, and as Gloria Steinem (for whom Page was briefly an assistant at Ms. magazine) used to sign off her letters, "Each other's lives are our best textbooks."
Page, 26, sold the idea to a publisher. The result, "The Smart Girl's Guide to College" (Noonday Press, $12), will be published Thursday. It's lively, often funny, occasionally poignant and always compelling. It's also a useful alternative to most of the major guidebooks and special issues of magazines that Page says -- accurately -- "read like manuals for food blenders."
Page established her categories -- among them the small liberal arts college, the women's college, the Ivy League school, the black college -- then recruited her essayists by calling the schools' creative-writing departments. Almost all cooperated.
She chose 27 young female writers from a list of 250 and commissioned each to "write a personal essay. Basically, I asked them to write a letter to themselves, to write what they would like to have known before they enrolled, what they know now and were surprised about."
Page's writers do not ignore serious aspects of college life teen-agers grapple with: the sexual coming of age, dealing with homosexuality, surviving as a black student on a majority white campus.
One essayist transfers from the University of Kentucky, intimidated by its hugeness. Another finds herself at a school that fails to support women's sports (Syracuse University), another steadfastly remains independent where sororities and fraternities rule social life (Cornell), and still another writes about being a lesbian at an "intolerant" college (St. Mary's in Indiana).
The essays in "The Smart Girl's Guide" won't be reprinted by the thousands by colleges and sent out to recruit freshmen. That's because they're balanced, although Page says she didn't order balanced treatment.
Writing about Goucher, for example, Jenn Crowell, a novelist and a junior at the Towson school, praises a campus where "women's issues are spoken about freely by members of both sexes." But she writes that some men students have an "I'm-at-a-chick-smor- gasbord-and-can-load-up-my- plate mentality." You won't find that in Goucher's marketing package.
Page, now free-lancing in New York, says she was satisfied by her four years at Goucher but found "not much intercollegiate socializing" in Baltimore. "Goucher suffers something of an inferiority complex, as evidenced by the T-shirts we used to wear that said, 'Where the hell is Goucher?' A lot of self-mocking goes on there."
Why not a co-ed guide?
Because 800,000 young women go off to college each year, and a quarter of them drop out or transfer by their sophomore year. Maybe they need guidance. Because, Page says, women "do have different issues in college and are still seeking equal treatment in sports and academics."
And, let's face it, because "The Smart Boy's Guide to College" is a logical sequel.
Schools figure large in moves to suburbs
Last Sunday's column was devoted in part to the new middle school attached to Woodhome Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore. For years, until they got their own middle grades this month, Woodhome parents exercised "choice" in circumventing the neighborhood middle school. They sent their children to private and parochial schools or pulled up stakes.
Last week, a conservative Baltimore think tank released a survey of those who left the city for the suburbs last year. Not surprisingly, 19 percent of the "leavers" cited poor public schools as the primary reason for their defection. (Forty-three percent listed crime as the chief reason.) Only 11.6 percent of those who left gave city public schools a satisfactory rating.
Also not surprisingly, 51 percent of 309 families polled -- all now living in the suburbs -- said they might have stayed in Baltimore had taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools been available.
The findings, from an independent poll commissioned by the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, were taken to show a groundswell of support for vouchers, which are high on the conservative agenda. Institute officials were quick to point out // that a higher percentage of blacks than of whites said they might have stayed put in Charm City with a voucher plan.
"Baltimore must ask itself if fiscally it can afford not to implement school choice," said Douglas Munro, co-director of the institute.
Education Beat erred last Sunday in saying that Woodhome had reached its lowest level of enrollment four years ago. Fay R. Husted, who was principal then, called our attention to the error. In fact, the school slipped to an enrollment of 212 -- and there was talk of closing it -- a dozen years ago.
Pub Date: 9/14/97